The Original Fountain of Youth
Antioxidants and flavonoids have received much media publicity of late, often touted as the key to anti-aging and vibrant health as well as a cure for a range of serious illnesses. But what are these mystical, mythical substances?
Have we finally found our 'magic bullet' for youth and well-being or is this simply another float in the health and wellness parade?
What are Antioxidants ?
Antioxidants are found in all life forms, but flavonoids are mostly found in fresh fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes also contain high amounts, and these are the real key.
Antioxidants comprise a broad branch of chemistry specifically designed to deal with the effect of unharnessed oxygen in the body. Oxygen creates instability, by oxidising - thus destroying – many nutrients, especially the omega oils that comprise the inflammatory and nerve systems, as well as – mostly worryingly - the brain.
Antioxidants clean up and contain the damage caused by exposure to oxygen. To illustrate the effect of antioxidants, think of a firecracker lit inside a room versus a firecracker lit under a blanket. Sparks will fly around in both instances starting fires elsewhere, but the damage is mostly contained when lit under the blanket. Thus, antioxidants can be thought of as a body's own 'security blanket’: a way of mopping up and damping down unwanted reactions.
Flavonoids comprise a class of chemistry that incorporate antioxidant properties; all flavonoids are antioxidants, but not all antioxidants are flavonoids. Preliminary research indicates that flavonoids modify allergens, viruses and carcinogens. In addition, flavonoids are shown in in vitro studies to also have anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, and anti-diarrheal activities as well as an antiviral effect against several strains of viruses, among them polio.
Fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds have been around forever, so why are we just now finding out that they contain the 'magic elixir' to youth and vibrant health?
Our jungle roots
The answer to these questions lies in our ancestry, to a time when humans were still living in the forests and jungles and consuming copious amounts of fruit.
In those days, we were readily supplied with all the antioxidants and flavonoids we needed though a steady diet of fruit, fruit and more fruit. Eating fruit was an easy choice in the days when most food was gathered from trees instead of supermarket shelves.
Our instincts speak of this connection also; of all foods in their natural state, sweet, delicious fruit stands hear and shoulders about the rest in attraction and nutrition. It is almost as if it was designed that way !
Fruit eaters by design
All animals face the challenge posed by the need defend the brain and body against the effects of oxidization. Nature has dealt with this dilemma by creating the ability to produce adequate amounts vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant) in the bodies of all animals - except the great apes! Why? Because our lineage are designed by nature to consume massive amounts of fruit to cover our antioxidant needs. We therefore opted out of producing this critical blood antioxidant in the body they way other animals do.
This was fine and dandy when we were still hanging out in the jungle. But in modern times our life habits and diet have changed. Quick, easy access to packaged and processed foods has provided us with a greater selection of foods so fruit is often no longer our first choice. As a result, our diet has gradually become deficient in antioxidants and flavonoids and our poor oxygen-damaged brains and bodies are suffering. We’re now eating around 2% of the antioxidant-rich foods we were when our bodies were designed.
100,000 years as homo sapiens, sounds like a long time, but I all that time we have not even managed to turn on the gene that produces the enzyme that creates the vitamin C in our gut (from sugars) to protect the most valuable systems in the body.
This stymies any idea that we have evolved from the need to consume sufficient quantities of raw fruits and veggies to cover our nutritional requirements. Because we no longer receive adequate amounts of these substances in our diet, we are hugely deficient, and Oxygen is wreaking havoc in our systems.
We have therefore not suddenly uncovered a magic potion in flavonoids. They have been around for longer than mankind itself, contained in the food were built to eat. The problem lies in our deficient diets and our inability to evolve quick enough to adapt to our changing circumstances and accommodate the radical change in our diet.
The three most obvious consequences of flavonoid depletion are:
Damage to the venous network: Veins and arteries are designed to transport oxygen and nutrients to the body. A deficiency of antioxidants and flavonoids in the blood is like a clean-up crew on strike: there is no one mop up and contain the mess caused by the masses of oxygen carried by the blood to the body and brain.
As a result, arterial walls suffer, becoming eroded, brittle and thin. One obvious symptom often attributed to this deficiency on the venous network is excessive bruising.
We have all heard of cholesterol these days, and associate it to too much meat in our diets, and while there may be a connection there, we are no considering it biological role in all animals: A cell’s distress call (caused by damage or deficiency) is the release of cholesterol to stimulate the immune respond to deal with the problem. It is the flag that calls for the ambulance.
Because our arterial cell wall is being attacked constantly by the oxygen it carries, it is constantly putting up hat flag. The lower the level of Vitamin C in the blood, the higher the level of cholesterol. It is interesting to note that the basal level of cholesterol in the human blood is already higher than in monkey blood, due this chronic Vitamin C deficiency.
The most 'oxygen hungry' system in nature is comprised of around 80% omega fatty acids, one of the most oxidization substances on the planet. Thus antioxidant deficiency in the brain is inevitable, critical, structural, and GLOBAL.
Fortunately however, it is mostly repairable.
Oxidation damage to the brain is probably the most worrying and insipid of all symptoms, because - ourselves - as a symptom of mostly damage to the consciousness is to not recognize the symptoms !
Symptoms range fogginess, forgetfulness, vagueness, all the way to attention deficit disorders, lupus, Alzheimer and dementia - a level of which we all suffer from.
Like I said, whether we admit it or not, it is an inevitable chemical certainty !
There is always a solution!
Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruit is the highest in antioxidants and flavonoids, as flavonoids equatable with the pigments in fruits – and in terms of evolution, we have co-evolved colour vision alongside the trees over the past 200 million years to spot their best adverts from across the canopy. What a wonder !
Berries are highest in flavonoids, as they are small, brightly coloured and have a high percentage of skin surface. Eat as much as possible of these sweet, juicy antioxidant bombs - especially those locally grown in season.
Another great source of flavonoids is the white pith on the inside of an orange. This is a good choice in the winter months, when citrus fruit is in season and shipped relatively ripe.
A rule of thumb when looking for flavonoid-rich foods: Look for fruits and vegetables with colourful skin and flesh. The colours in fruit and vegetables are a sure sign of the presence of flavonoids. Eating as many different colours of fruit and vegetables as possible ensures diversity of flavonoids in the diet.
So - make like your monkey ancestors and eat masses of fresh fruit and veg!
You will soon feel like swinging from the trees!